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Archive for September, 2015


Thursday and Friday was our stated Presbytery meeting in Flagstaff, AZ. This was the 3rd “short” week in a row thanks to a holiday, my son’s surgery and now Presbytery. Usually this means compressing the sermon preparation, but this week I have a friend from out of town preaching for us on Sunday. He was coming back to Tucson, in part to attend the presbytery meeting.

So he spent two nights at our house and was going to drive up with me. This also meant that I didn’t get my usual exercise. I was planning on leaving between 6-6:30, but the night before decided that 6:30-7 might work better for us, so we could get a little extra sleep in the morning.

I tried. We left shortly after 7 and were on the road for the approximately 3 1/2 hour trip to Flagstaff. I had kidded him about loading up my iPod with Deep Purple since he thinks Smoke on the Water is the only song they are known for. We ended up not even using my iPod as we talked most of the way up. We talked about the issues to be discussed in our meeting, the shooting accident that resulted in his hearing loss, church opportunities he is pursuing, the morality of football, and the Pope’s visit. Before getting on the highway we stopped so he could get a Coke to drink with his medicine. With no parking in front I dropped him off and then, without his realizing it, drove into the connector between the lots for Circle K and Wendy’s. It was a long line, and I was waiting thinking about having to make up time. When I saw him come to the door I pulled into the lot and toward the door. He missed me, and thought I’d parked around the corner. Though he knew I wouldn’t abandon him, he was still confused. So I honked at him, he got in and off we went.

We made one stop, on the north end of Phoenix. It is a new to me car and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to Flagstaff on one tank of gas. While I pumped gas, he went in. For another Coke. When he had come out, I had moved the car to a parking space. I kind of enjoyed messing with his mind. This resulted in a story of how they used to do this to one of their friends who was always the last one out of the store.

We actually made great time, and arrived into Flagstaff on time. (One oddity of the new congressional districts in AZ is that I drove 3 1/2 hours and ended up in the same district I live in.) When we had been looking at maps online it looked like I needed to get off 17 onto 40 and get of the first exit. Since Siri does not like me (to put it mildly), I asked him to use his phone to get the directions. Siri responded quickly to him. Unfortunately we were brought through the NAU area which gets clogged due to low speeds, pedestrians and buses. So much for being on time. We then discovered that Siri brought us to the old address, from like 2 years ago. We quickly pulled up their website to get the address and now were on our way again. We finally got to the church, and arrived about 20-25 minutes late for the committee meeting. The new building was pretty much at the intersection of 17 & 40. We wasted that whole trip thru town. I don’t like Siri- it is a mutual thing.

The big news for the balance of the meeting was simply the time frame for re-starting an RUF ministry at the UofA. We, the churches in Tucson,  have until 2017 to get the initial money together and hire a campus director.

We didn’t eat here.

After the meeting, we went cruising for a restaurant without any assistance from Siri. We settled, rather quickly, on Freddy’s Steak Burgers. Ed had eaten Italian food for lunch and dinner the day before. Olive Garden was out It was the first time either of us had been to Freddy’s even though there is one near my house in Tucson. The burger was good- mine was the double with bacon and cheese. I prefer Five Guys, and I had known there was a Smash Burger not too far away I would have wanted to eat there.

We began with a time of prayer. We focused on our marriages, and the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our members. We heard a report from our RUF campus minister in Las Cruces. The part of the committee meeting I’d missed. He told three stories of people impacted by the ministry since last we met. Their large group meeting has been running at about 75 students. Things are going well there.

Much of the afternoon was spent examining a candidate for ministry. He had received a call to one of the churches in Tucson, but was coming from a non-PCA and non-Reformed context. So we wanted to be thorough. And fair. His English Bible exam was very good (though I prefer more than one reference when possible), as was his history exam (though I mentioned that he never mentioned the ARP in his history of Presbyterianism). There were some small blips in theology w/regard to the 3-fold division of the law and the 3rd use of the law but nothing that appeared significant. He would preach later during our worship service that evening.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in executive session. So I can’t tell you about it. Those sessions are often very personal and painful, or they wouldn’t be in private. They are draining periods of time. We didn’t finish that work when the time for dinner arrived. It had been a busy 5 hours.

Dinner was Italian. I thought it might be Olive Garden since it was cheese tortellini, a Caesar salad, rolls and tiramisu, but it was catered by NAU food services (good to build that connection). I spent some time talking with one of the assistant pastors from Tucson and getting to know the new director of youth and family ministry at the host church. Since the latter will eventually come before us for ordination, he had a few questions.

Theirs is a new building, two stories built into a hill. The sanctuary seats about 150, has the high ceilings (like an A-frame) with a library above the foyer overlooking the sanctuary. The furnishings often looked like they came from the Adirondack’s: knotty limbs and blocks of wood for horizontal surfaces. Downstairs was the kitchen, nursery and classroom space. This is where we ate dinner.

In the week before the meeting I’d developed a boil on the underside of my arm in the pit. I’d soaked it the night before to try and get whatever was causing the swelling out. It was tender in the morning, and had grown increasingly uncomfortable as the day wore on. I checked on it in the men’s room after dinner and saw that my work had been successful and hoped to attend to it when I finally got to my hotel later that night.

One of things I usually like about presbytery is worshiping in other churches. You get to see how they worship. Often I am able to borrow confessions of sins, additional verses from songs etc. They had the lyrics up on a large flat screen above the pulpit area. Most of them were also in the Order of Worship, except the one we sing which had an additional verse I wanted to bring home. Sometimes a worship service will be a bit outside of your comfort zone. That’s okay, generally speaking. This was a bit outside of mine in some ways. The sermon by the candidate was generally good, but it hit me as focused a bit too much on the imperative at the expense of the indicative. As it turned out, I was not alone in that impression.

As we prepared for communion I noticed that my sleeve seemed to keep sticking to my arm. Wondering what was up, I looked and saw it was covered in blood. After partaking of the body and blood, I slipped into the men’s room to tend to my now-exploded boil. I’ll spare you more of the gory details. But it sure felt better.

After the worship service we tied up a few loose ends, including a task for me, in the executive session. Then it was time for fellowship. Of course we got turned around a few times trying to read those road signs. Finally we asked Siri for directions to the Beaver Street Brewery. She-who-hates-me was useless. Back to Google and we were soon there. Thankfully we passed my hotel, so I now knew how to get there.

We had a great turnout, and only a few other people were in the restaurant. The music was too loud, and sadly they had just run out of the steamed mussels in a thai curry sauce. But I had a glass of their stout (which was good) and what they call Bowl of Goodness, fries sprinkled with cheese and herbs with a dip. It was very good and a few guys “helped” me eat it. It is good being able to get to know guys you don’t ordinarily spend time with because they work hours away. Josh, who organizes these events and I’ve decided to call “the Party Starter” decided we should play a pool game. Everyone threw a dollar into the kitty and the one who took the fewest attempts to get all three balls in a pocket won. I managed to get one in, semi-acquitting myself, before exceeding the best thus far.

Soon 11:30 was creeping up, and I still needed to check-in to my hotel. Ed was staying with other friends, so I was on my own. I’d picked the Econo Lodge University. The price differences between hotels were fairly large. I paid only $50 since I was basically only going to sleep and shower there. The room was clean, so I was content. I was delighted to see that the shower head 1. was not for Hobbit-sized people, and 2. of the rain fall variety.

I cleaned up my armpit, again. Resisting the urge to watch TV I went to bed about 11:45. I woke up around 3:30 in the morning. I’m not sure why. But I had a hard time falling back asleep. The pillow wasn’t very comfortable being overly fat and fluffy, and there were unusual noises (the refrigerator?), and the room was a bit stuff. So eventually I turned up the fan and read. I finished 1 Chronicles, and then a chapter in a book on missions I’ve been reading. At 5 I tried to sleep again, and slept until about 7 when CavWife called.

From my trip there in 2010

I showered and dressed. The continental breakfast, and the lobby, didn’t look appealing so I went next door to Chick-Fil-A. I noticed 2 other guys from presbytery and ate with them talking about various aspects of the meeting and ministry in our respective cities. Afterwards, having finished my sweet tea, I went next door to Dunkin’ Donuts for a vanilla chai.

The air pressure warning had gone off the night before, and was still on when I started the car. I figured that if I filled up with gas, and had the air checked, I’d be ready to go once the meeting was over. I knew, due to the ideal gas law, that the pressure would drop due to those refreshing cooler temps at 7,000 feet. But I’d been having some trouble with air pressure and didn’t want a tire to go flat on the long ride home. I didn’t have my new digital gauge with me so I wasn’t sure which one was low. I spotted a Discount Tire and took advantage of their free air pressure check. Only a pound light, but I guess the sensors don’t work well at such elevations and read as if about 3 pounds light. They put a little extra in and I was good.

The rest of the meeting was mostly reports and prayer. We didn’t handle the proposed changes to the Standing Rules of Presbytery. This was good because the proposed “radical” changes had been replaced with some minimal changes. I’m not excited about the status quo which seems mostly maintenance not pressing the kingdom forward. We will talk about them at our next meeting.

There were lots of opportunities for congregations and individuals to be involved in missions connected with our presbytery, like:

  • Helping with church planting in Hondoras w/the Pettingills.
  • Teaching local pastors in Uganda.
  • Helping Barrio Nuevo, a mercy ministry in Phoenix
  • Helping Crossroads Ministry, a mercy ministry in Las Cruces
  • Supporting interns with the Hispanic Leadership Initiative
  • 2 Church Plants in Albuquerque.
  • Possible prison ministry in Phoenix/Tucson
  • Native American ministry east of Flagstaff
  • Ministry across the border in Juarez

The best line of the meeting was when one presbyter was disagreeing with the Parlimentarian about a particular section of the Book of Church order, to whom he replied “I wrote it” and therefore knows what it means.

After some good-byes, Ed and I were off for another largely uneventful ride home. I did spot 2 elk along the side of the highway that had been hit. They were actually quite huge so I wondered what the vehicles looked like. My ears popped repeatedly as we went from 7,000 feet to under 2,000 feet. We stopped for a late lunch in Phoenix at Pappadeaux which I’ve wanted to do for 5 years. It was excellent, though a bit more expensive than I was hoping. I was also surprised to see so many people with grey hair because it was a loud restaurant with lots of background noise that can make hearing difficult. We continued to talk family stuff, transitions in ministry and how my book is coming since he works for the publisher.

Still Deep Purple and iPod-less we arrived at my house at 4 pm. I think I will sleep well tonight.

[I meant to take some pictures of the building and sanctuary, but forgot.]

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I was walking through Pet Smart this morning when something came to mind with regard to all the controversy regarding Tullian Tchividjian in recent days. I want to focus on one aspect.

Interacting with another PCA pastor he mentioned that Tullian should be able to provide for his family. He also said he should have a church shepherd and love him through this process. Willow Creek, as Rev. Labby mentioned in his Patheos interview, was a good place for this since he worshiped there while in seminary.

First, we certain do need to shepherd who are under discipline or have been removed from ministry. I am not among those who think such a man can never be restored. While no longer a member of a presbytery, he needs to be a member of a congregation (unless a particular pastor recants the faith as my predecessor in Florida did). That session should look out for him, counsel him (or oversee counseling) whether or not this man is seeking to be restored to ministry. He needs to be restored to the Body, so to speak. These men deal with shame and stigma. A church needs to love them.

This gets me to the question of Tullian needing to take care of his family. The staff position seems to be justified by, in part, this need. This morning I went “hmmmm”.

There is no reason, apart from negligence on the part of the presbytery or retribution on the part of the congregation, that Tullian should need to provide for his family so soon. This does not take into account his book royalties. I’m thinking, not simply of Tullian, but any pastor in his position. Congregations and presbyteries, while they may be experiencing many negative emotions for being in this position, need to love these men and their families.

If a man has been in ministry for more than a few years, it is incredibly difficult to find a new vocation with which you can support your family. I was in a transition for over two years. Since I was not under discipline I was able to do pulpit supply. Finding a full-time job, on the other hand, was very difficult. Including pulpit supply, I worked full-time in a hardware store (thanks to former members) and part-time at the local hospital (thanks to a friend) and still didn’t make ends meet. In the case of discipline, the man has serious family issues to work through in the aftermath. Money should not be an immediate concern.

This means that presbyteries should make sure there is an adequate severance package that provides this man time to work through the aftermath and find a new vocation.

If we consider that the average pastoral search takes 18 months, the severance probably ought to be at least a year. The church would not be paying for another pastor yet (unless they hire an intern) so this should not place a financial burden on the congregation (unless lots of people leave as a result). Presbyteries should probably have a fund to fund a severance package just in case.

Our love toward our members should not end because of grievous sin that disqualifies a man for ministry. We must not let anger and pain blind us to our need to love him and his family. Our responsibility to them does not end with their resignation or removal from ministry. If we do this, we remove the temptation to engage in ministry before the discipline accomplishes it purpose (which is not payback but sanctification). This will reduce unnecessary controversy that further damages the Body of Christ. As we consider the new command that Jesus gave to us, to love one another as He has loved us, it all starts to make sense. If we actually love one another, including disgraced pastors, we will care for them in a way that honors Christ and helps them transition without controversy.

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If you love Christ you have most likely discouraged by the recent spat of news regarding Christian leaders, and laypeople, and sexual sin. It is disheartening to hear of yet another person who has fallen to this type of sin. I’ve lost track of the number of guys I knew in seminary that were disqualified from ministry due to sexual sin.

I’ve read something just as disheartening from the “pen” of a prominent blogger’s wife. I appreciate his ministry. I guess I just don’t get his wife’s perspective. It sounds to me like the old Bob Newhart skit.

What strikes me is how naive it sounds. It seems to minimize the power of indwelling sin and the wiles of our Enemy who wants to destroy the Church, marriage and family. I don’t say this to minimize the power of the Spirit nor the sufficiency of Christ’s work. I often push back against the worm theology that thinks we can never obey. We can grow in obedience, which means we can obey as we mature. The grace of God did appear to teach us to “no” to unrighteousness in this present age (Titus 2).

This does not mean it is easy, as we see in Romans 7 as Paul, who was a more mature Christian than me, cried out to be delivered from “this body of sin.” He shifted immediately into the gospel balm of there being “no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus” which is so important because we continue to sin. He builds on this later in Romans 8.

Paul, in Romans 7 and Galatians 5, talked about sin and the sinful nature: indwelling sin. We talk too little about this fact. Indwelling sin means that we are still attracted to sin in various forms. If this woman was honest with us, she’d admit that there are sins she has seemingly made little to no progress in fighting. Her’s may be far less destructive to marriage and ministry than sexual sin, but that doesn’t mean she faces her own helplessness against sin. Were it not for indwelling sin, there would be nothing in me for temptation to hook.

Indwelling sin also hinders movement toward obedience. It is like trying to swim while wearing a few layers of clothing. At every turn, my flesh comes up with reasons not to obey. I need to talk to myself in gospel terms to goad myself on toward greater faithfulness to Him who died for me.

This is only the third of the great enemies of holiness. The others, of course, being the world and the devil. The former is under the control of the latter to some degree. The world promotes sexual sin, as we see with the existence of the Ashley Madison website, Tinder and pornography in more forms than you can shake a stick at. But lest we think sin is only “out there”, I remind you of indwelling sin which produced the visions of naked women experienced by Jerome as he hid from the world in a cave.

There is also that prowling lion looking to see whom he may devour who tempts us and places crazy and sinful thoughts in us. Satan hates God, but he can’t destroy God. He is aiming at the next best thing: God’s image. Sexual sin is one that strikes at the core of who we are since we were made male and female. Additionally, God gave us the creation mandate which includes “be fruitful and multiply”. Sex within marriage is essential for procreation that we might fill the world with God’s image. Satan does not want the world filled with God’s image, but he’ll settle for that tarnished image resulting from the fall. He wants to destroy the marriages of God’s people precisely because they are seeking to raise up godly seed. Satan wants to destroy the marriages of Christians, and one really good way to do that is sexual sin.

He also hates the Church and the Great Commission (an application of the Creation Mandate to the fallen world). He seeks to stop its growth and progress. One of the many schemes he has is sexual sin. He can destroy marriages, ministries and churches at the same time.

Impalement of PhinehasThink of how Balaam got God to curse the Israelites. If they sinned, turning away from God. So he told Balak to send in the Moabite “hoochie mamas” to seduce the sons of Israel with fornication leading to worshiping their Gods (Numbers 22-25). In discussing this in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul says their temptation was common to all.

This means that sexual sin is, in many ways, not like any other sin. While a particular person may not feel temptation to sexual sin, most Christians will. This also means that most pastors will too.

I don’t say this to excuse any sin, or anyone’s sin. I say to this to remind us of the danger there is to people. If you know you are particularly tempted, you need to take steps to be vigilant in fighting temptation. Spouses need to pray for one another (women commit these sins too!). People need to pray for their church leaders. Assume they at least occasionally face such temptation. The recent revelations should move us to pray for people to live upright lives in this present age. They should remind us that the Nancy Reagan “Just Say ‘No’!” approach is not as easy as it sounds when dealing with a sin that promises so much (that it cannot deliver).

“So far as moral failings are concerned, we need to show much more patience. It is easy to trip up here, and the devil is amazingly ingenious in leading us astray.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541)

2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. WCF, XIII

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God. Heidelberg Catechism

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RedemptionI’m beginning to work on my upcoming Sunday School series on Hosea. So it is time to let you, my faithful 3 readers, know the books and commentaries I will be using as I prepare to teach on the first of the minor prophets.

Love Divine and Unfailing: The Gospel According to Hosea by Michael Barrett

The Book of Hosea (NICOT) by J. Andrew Dearman

The Message of Hosea:Love to the Loveless (BST) by Derek Kidner

Hosea-Jonah (WBC) by Douglas Stuart

Update:

Sometimes we forget the great books that already sit on our shelves whether read or not.

God’s Unfaithful Wife: a Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery (formerly entitled Whoredom) by Ray Ortlund Jr. This book does has a large section that works through Hosea.

We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Gregory Beale. There is not as much on Hosea.

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